United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Carlos Iraheta brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) to review a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his
claims to Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB")
under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-34, and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"), 42 U.S.C. § 1381. For the reasons set
forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") is REMANDED for further consideration.
Carlos Iraheta appeals a finding that he did not meet the
Social Security Act's definition of disability from
August 15, 2011 through December 9, 2014-the date of the
ALJ's decision. (R. 26-36).
applied for DIB and SSI on January 30, 2012. (R. 90-102).
Iraheta stated that he has been disabled since August 15,
2011 because of a bacterial infection of the brain. (R. 90).
These claims were denied by medical consultants at Disability
Determination Services on July 3, 2012, and then denied again
upon reconsideration on January 4, 2013. (R. 144-49, 152-63).
November 13, 2013, Iraheta appeared before ALJ Donna A.
Krappa. (R. 44-68). Iraheta was accompanied by his wife, Ms.
Maria Iraheta, and counsel, Mr. Robert J. Osborne. (R.
44-68). After the hearing, ALJ Krappa held the record open
for Iraheta to submit additional records. (R. 26). The ALJ
ordered a supplemental hearing with testimony from a medical
expert, Dr. Martin Fechner. (R. 26, 69-87).
December 9, 2014, ALJ Krappa issued a decision finding that
Iraheta was not disabled from August 15, 2011 through
December 9, 2014. (R. 26-36). On July 6, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Iraheta's request for review, rendering
the ALJ's decision the final decision of die
Commissioner. (R. 1-8). Iraheta then appealed to this Court,
challenging the ALJ's determination that he was not
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must meet income and
resource limitations and show that he is unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted (or can be
expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382,
1382c(a)(3)(A), (B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a); see
Ittig v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 570 Fed.Appx. 262, 264 (3d
Cir. 2014); Diaz v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 577 F.3d
500, 503 (3d Cir. 2009).
The Five-Step Process and This Court's Standard of
the authority of the Social Security Act, die Social Security
Administration has established a five-step evaluation process
for determining whether a claimant is entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. This Court's
review necessarily incorporates a determination of whether
the ALJ properly followed the five-step process prescribed by
regulation. The steps may be briefly summarized as follows:
One: Determine whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the
alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). If not, move to step two.
Two: Determine if the claimant's alleged
impairment, or combination of impairments, is
"severe." Id. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment, move to
Three: Determine whether the impairment meets or
equals the criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of
Impairments. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, pt. A.
(Those Part A criteria are purposely set at a high level to
identify clear cases of disability without further analysis.)
If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to receive
benefits; if not, move to step four. Id.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
Four: Determine whether, despite any severe
impairment, the claimant retains the Residual Functional
Capacity ("RFC") to perform past relevant work.
Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(*). 416.920(e)-(f). If
not, move to step five.
Five: At this point, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant, considering
his age, education, work experience, and RFC, is capable of
performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g); see Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
474 F.3d 88, 91-92 (3d Cir. 2007). If so, benefits will be
denied; if not, they will be awarded.
all legal issues, this Court conducts a plenary review.
See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 181 F.3d
429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to factual findings, this Court
adheres to the ALJ's findings, as long as they are
supported by substantial evidence. Jones v. Bamhart,
364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
405(g)). Where facts are disputed, this Court will
"determine whether the administrative record contains
substantial evidence supporting the findings." Sykes
v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000).
"Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Zirnsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607,
610 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere
scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of
the evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
[I]n evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings ... leniency should be shown in
establishing the claimant's disability, and ... the
Secretary's responsibility to rebut it should be strictly
construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the
legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in
this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a
typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system
Reefer v. Bamhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When there
is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual
findings, however, this Court must abide by them. See
Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g));
Zimsak, 777 F.3d at 610-11 ("[W]e are mindful
that we must not substitute our own judgment for that of the
Court may, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), affirm, modify, or
reverse the Commissioner's decision, or it may remand the
matter to the Commissioner for a rehearing. Bordes v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 235 Fed.Appx. 853, 865-66 (3d
Cir. 2007); Podedwomy v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221
(3d Cir. 1984).
is proper if the record is incomplete, or if there is a lack
of substantial evidence to support a definitive finding on
one or more steps of the five-step inquiry. See
Podedwomy, 745 F.2d at 221-22. Remand is also proper if
the ALJ's decision lacks adequate reasoning or support
for its conclusions, or if it contains illogical or
contradictory findings. See Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec, 220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d Cir. 2000). It is also
proper to remand where the ALJ's findings are not the
product of a complete review which "explicitly weigh[s]
all relevant, probative and available evidence" in the
record. Adomo v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 48 (3d Cir.
1994) (internal quotation marks omitted).